Mike Ladle


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Tackle and Tactics.

THINK LIKE A FISH Part 9 Search Image.

Most mid-water feeding fish of interest to sea anglers are predators. Although they will, at times, feed heavily on small planktonic animals it is the larger free-swimming creatures with which they will usually be preoccupied. Small fish, squid, prawns, members of the lobster family, swimming-crabs and large worms are satisfying, mouth-watering chunks of protein the only problem facing the fish is catching them! (Just like angling really!).

Each food item presents a different set of problems to the would-be consumer and to eat regularly it is necessary to specialise. Just as each species of bird has a characteristic beak designed to grasp worms, crack seeds, "tweeze" insects, tear flesh or spear fish, so the pollack has its "coal scuttle" mouth to engulf fish, the bass has jaws armed with friction-pad teeth which will grip crab, worm and fish alike, the wrasse has rounded, shell-cracking teeth behind lips tough enough to resist the fiercest nip of a swimming crab and the humble whiting has a set of hooked, needle-pointed, flesh piercing, fish-gripping dentures which would not disgrace a pike.

The sea angler's problem is to use a bait which resembles, as near as possible, what his intended quarry is expecting to see. Problem solved! Just hook on the appropriate creature and lob it into the sea, but as we all know by no means every fish will fall for a dead crab or an inert fillet of mackerel. How about using live baits? In quite a few cases a well presented and actively swimming sandeel, prawn or blenny is the perfect attractor so why bother with anything else?

Firstly, fresh lively baits take time to collect, they may be inaccessible or difficult to obtain and they will always be expensive to buy. Secondly, hooks, lines, leads and tackle hamper the movements of even the liveliest swimmers making them less than 100% attractive. Thirdly, a live bait which is feeling 'one-degree-under' is unlikely to zip about in a natural manner and it may be a problem to 'cover' all the fish-holding areas with such a bait.

Simply reeling-in or twitching a dead or moribund bait can give it the semblance of life but, as any bass angler knows, a really active swimming sandeel will out-fish a stiff, dead one however well it is presented. So what's left for the hard up, hard-pressed angler who lives miles from the sea but would still like to catch his fair share of hunky, hunting heavyweights? Is there an alternative way of representing a large, live, swimming creature?

For a great many years it has been known that by mounting dead baits so that the body lies in a curve they can be made to wriggle through the water more or less as through they were swimming. Again this tactic has its good points but does not get over the difficulties of obtaining bait, of rebaiting when the chosen creature begins to look tatty, and even the most meticulous "baiter up" finds it difficult to repeat the same action every time with baits varying in size, shape and condition.

Also, with the best will in the world, it is difficult to mount a fish or prawn so that it does anything but undulate slowly. By the addition of spinning-vanes or wobbling-planes a variety of actions can be produced but even in these cases it is necessary to select the size and shape of the bait with care.

The only way to produce a 'spinning' lure with a consistent and repeatable action is to stick to artificial materials. This resolves many of the difficulties. Size and shape are restricted only by the capabilities of the tackle used. Almost any action can be produced ranging from the fast, flickering spin of a bar spoon or mackerel spinner through the inviting wag of a plastic or rubber eel, like Red gill, Delta, Eddystone, to the life-like wiggle of a well made plug and even the fishy flash of a spoon. With this entire armoury at our disposal why bother to use anything else? There are two obvious flaws in the use of spinning lures.

Firstly, only rarely is any provision made for the lure to smell and taste right.

The second flaw is slightly more of a problem. Few artificials look like the prey they are meant to represent. One or two features may be fish like, the rate and colour of the flash, the frequency of vibration, the shape, the size, the scale-like finish, the eye, the direction in which they move or the distance from the water surface, but few have every key attribute of the really genuine article.

When the sea is calm and clear and the bass, pollack, cod or mackerel has plenty of time to cast a critical eagle-eye over your lure then it may be "found wanting" long before it is near enough to be sampled. The art is to select the correct lure to deceive the fish under the prevailing conditions.

In general, the more time available for the fish to make its selection the more realistic must be the imitation. Fish in a feeding frenzy have little time to choose if they are to reach the bait-fish before their neighbours. Mackerel, which are constantly in hot competition with other members of the school, are quite often willing to grab any moving object within their preferred size range. However, even these bold biters can play hard to get when they are well fed and at such times a tiny active plug or willow leaf spoon may catch a fish when spinners or feathers are ignored.

The selectivity of a particular type of lure may be even more striking with other species, like bass for example. Balsa plugs or Redgill type eels will sometimes out-fish spoons or German sprats to the tune of 10 or even 100 to one over periods when the fish are "fussy". Although a big lure will usually be the favourite for large bass, I have seen big fish turn up their noses at a five-inch Rapala but fall on a two-inch 'cheap and nasty' foreign plug as though it was their last meal. In the latter example the fish had a whitebait fixation.

An acquaintance of mine, Paul Savage, on a holiday fishing trip with his son, told me about a classic example of fish preoccupation that happened just last week. This is what he wrote to me -

"It was good to talk to you again down on the shore (I am the Geordie you met the other day!) (Incidentally we met and chatted in the same place last year after which Paul lost my E-MAIL address.) and I thought you might be interested in our fishing experience last Sunday. We spent the day drifting (in their small boat) and spinning or trolling plugs and the result was ten fish landed (and ten put back) but all caught by my son fishing next to me! We found that the bass were not close in due to the bright conditions but in about 15 - 20ft of water. The exception was a bay where the sea was disturbed and cloudy. The interesting result from the days fishing was the fact that the only difference between what my son was fishing with and my own lure was colour. We both had on 31/2" jointed Rebel plugs on 10ft of fluorocarbon joined to braid. I was using a brown / gold plug that has done well in the past and my son was using a black / silver plug. It became obvious after four or five fish that colour was making a difference but I decided to continue the experiment for the rest of the day. 10 - nil is a definite result! The best fish was 61/2lb, the next 4lb and the rest 2 - 21/2lb.

Best Regards,

Paul Savage"

I guess that in the case of Paul and his son the fish had a fixation on sandeels or some other small silvery fish and the small silver plug represented roughly the right search image.

If the sea is murky, following a stir-up, then flash and vibration may be much more important than the fish-like appearance of the lure. It is under such conditions that a huge well polished spoon, a fast-throbbing bar-spoon, a baited spoon or a big plug with an action like a two pound black bream may come in to its own.

Spinning for sea fish is still a neglected strategy. If more anglers were to develop the use of artificials for their own 'pet' stretches of coastline, not only would they save money (Yes, believe me, in the long run its cheaper to use lures than to buy or dig bait!) and relieve the pressure on over stretched bait resources, but they might also catch fish the likes of which they never thought existed.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Think like a fish.

Try a Fly!

'Sandpaper' jaws.

The jaws of bass are armed with lots of tiny teeth forming friction pads to grip the slipperiest sandeel.

Not fussy!

This bass took a blue and yellow striped Nils Masster plug - obviously it was not 'fixed on 'little silver fish'.

A bass caught on a small silver Rapala.

I think that even fish which are hunting for blennies or sea scorpions among the rocks are unlikely to refuse a silvery, fish-like, lure.

A scad caught on a luminous bodied Mepps at night.

Scad preoccupied with feeding on small plankton animals and fish larvae are quite likely to reject bigger lures.  Small wet flies can be very effective in these cases.